Dave Conrad: The power of sharing knowledge
Dear Dave: The department I work in has a lot of pressure from upper management and the expectations are quite challenging. I think we can do much better if we work together and find ways to share our knowledge with each other. I approached my boss with this idea and she just said that she kind of likes the way things are — end of story. I don’t want to get fired for being labeled a troublemaker — or be seen as some sort of braggart — but, I want to help the company be more productive. Any ideas? — K
Dear K:Knowledge-sharing is the backbone of an organization and the best organizations have built and use knowledge-sharing systems to increase effectiveness. I applaud your analytical thinking and I agree that you don’t want to be singled out as an inside agitator, who does not color between the lines.
If you think you have expertise that others could learn and use, your management should utilize your knowledge and have other employees benefit from your skills and thinking. I would bet that you have fellow employees that may be struggling with their work and could use a guiding hand. I don’t think these folks would look at you as an egotist; rather, they would be happy that someone thought enough of them to help them out.
As with many things that I write about, this is a management responsibility. Without preaching, let me just say that many managers get so caught up in the technical and operational stuff, that they don’t or can’t spend enough time with their staff. Good managers, somehow, find the time and make every attempt possible to increase productivity and support the well-being of each worker. In short, they take care of both the production and the people issues and needs, and making sure that employees have the knowledge they need is a core part of their job.
Your department’s overall competence could be improved if the insights and thinking of the department employees are drawn out, discussed, and — if the ideas are worthy — used in a systemic way. The people closest to the work generally see what is going well and what needs improvement. I don’t think people enjoy doing work in ways that desperately need improvement, and they will look to "in-house experts" that can help (share knowledge) — these experts can have greater influence on them than management.
Coaching without boasting
You do need to be careful. Managers do not like it when workers step in to do their jobs — no matter how much the tasks or projects need help. It appears that you know you need to be careful and not overstep your boundaries, but, at the same time, you are justifiably frustrated that people need help and they are just not getting it. I think there are ways that can help you right these wrongs without being labeled a trouble-maker and self-righteous.
Instead, be strategic about the way you display your expertise in ways that are helpful to your colleagues. Often, company departments offer lunch-and-learn training that helps employees become more knowledgeable about pressing issues, repetitive mistakes, or even topics of general business interest. You could ask to present at one of these events. If your department doesn’t offer these opportunities, approach your boss about the concept and definitely play up the fact that it costs "nada" to do them. I think — at the end of the day — any manager would pounce on something that helps the department productivity and is cost-effective.
If you think there is a chance that your boss would welcome — or even think about — a mentoring system, bring up the idea of pairing people with advanced knowledge and experience with those that need the extra help. Numerous companies use this concept and the advantages are pronounced. Mentors provide mentorees with direct support for defined issues and needs. Plus, mentors can offer a kind, listening ear when employees need to vent a bit. I think everyone needs a "friend" at work and the mentor can be a friendly resource.
If your department doesn’t have some kind of a newsletter or internet bulletin system, offer to work with people that are savvy at setting up Web pages or formatting a newsletter so knowledge can be delivered right to each worker. You could even volunteer to offer advice or respond to queries on the corporate intranet. Again, make sure your boss is on board with this and — if she is interested — can even become a contributor to the topics and postings. This is a good way to make her look good, but, nothing will happen unless you have her buy-in and a sense of ownership of the concept and the work.
If these ideas are put to work, you will not be seen as a braggart; rather, you should be seen as an innovator that believes in knowledge-sharing. Your boss reaps the notoriety benefits and employee work output and ownership will be achieved. Learning is necessary for change to happen — help your boss realize that this is a learning quest and not just a means for you to climb the company ladder.